Eighteen hours ago Lieutenant Commander Talon Rake and failed to dig his men out of a very deep hole. Now the Republic troops were coming to bury them all in that hole. The crew of the Resolve had prepared as best they could, along similar lines to their previous defence. But they were weaker now. Crucially a turbo laser had been knocked out leaving an obvious flaw in their defences and only the fates knew what the Republic had up there. Eighteen hours ago Talon knew the Republic forces were all but spent. But in that time they could have flown in reinforcements. There might be another cruiser overhead now and the troops carried aboard such a vessel would surely finish of the meagre Imperial defenders. Of course this might all just be speculation for his part but Talon thought they would come again and come stronger. It was the eighteen hour figure that troubled him. It was oddly specific. Six hours, twelve hours, two hours, a day. Those were the sorts of round figures that made sense. But Eighteen? That hinted at some other event occurring in that time which Commander Aries had been planning around and the chances of that event being favourable to the Imperials were very slim.
Right now Talon was standing in his improvised command room, deep in the bowels of the ship. A few of the old bridge crew members were sat around him at crudely wired monitors and internal communicators, cables hung loosely about this place in a confusing display of multi coloured cords. Jan was also present, propped up against the wall with his arms folded. There was a heavy, chilly silence between the two men, neither of them able to bring themselves to speak first. All of a sudden the looted Republic communicator went off, a high pitched repetitive beeping that made Talon's heart jump up into his throat.
Steadying himself after his momentary panic the young man
walked slowly over to the device and picked up the receiver.
"This is Lieutenant Commander Talon Rake of the Imperial vessel Resolve." The man was clinging to formality like a child clung a blanket, barely able to conceal the uncertainty in his voice. The reply of Commander Aries was much more casual and confident.
"May I take it that you have consulted with your men and that you will spare their lives?" Something about those words must have flicked a switch in Talon's mind, perhaps something about their easy and self-assured tone, or the supposition as to his actions. Talon felt almost offended and suddenly he found his resolve strengthening, his ire rising, his pride and confidence returning in response.
His reply made as much clear though both words and tone.
"Sir, we are loyal Imperials. Do not judge us by your own standards. We shall fight you to the last man and the last round."
"Are you crazy?" It wasn't said like a threat, more like a concerned man trying to stop some frenzied lunatic doing something spectacularly stupid.
"No sir, just an Imperial officer." With that Talon promptly put the receiver down and looked over to Jan. "See to your men Major." Talon was referring to Jan by his trooper rank, the Corps and the Navy had different names for various ranks so Talon was still superior, not that he wanted to revisit that thorny issue. Nor did Jan it seemed as rather than criticise the trooper just gave a silent, perhaps slightly approving, nod and walked out of the door. In Jan's eyes Talon had made several mistakes but this was certainly the right call.
Well this was it, the die was cast. Nothing more to do now except hunker down and wait. A bit of him was still nervous and excitable. Talon wanted to ask questions, give orders but it would all have been pointless noise that only displayed his insecurity and unsettled the men. So he instead settled for standing there, feet slightly apart, hands behind his back, just like the Commander.
After roughly an hour the enemy came, the wait alone damn near killed Talon. It started quietly but that was the point. The sun had set and the only sources of light were the stars above and the occasional light from the windows and holes of the Resolve. The assault began when ten small ships with muffled engines quietly crested the hill and tore towards the Resolve less than ten meters above the ground. These were specialised ships with good pilots. The ships themselves were the size of a small gun ship and were in fact specialised insertion ships, they vaguely resembled the old clone LAAT/i, those iconic troop transports in the struggle against the confederacy. These new ships were sleeker and with a lower profile but you could tell where the inspiration had come from.
Unfortunately, in the low light and with the barely functional sensors, the ships were first spotted mere seconds away from the Resolve, and by then it was too late. They had flown right into the hole in the turbo laser coverage and had skipped along the hull to the base of the bridge tower in the blink of an eye. The mere fact they were here at all was astounding. They must have been fresh reinforcements from a new ship overhead. Furthermore they must have breached the atmosphere a long way away and flown up to the hill at subsonic speeds, or else the Resolve would have heard them coming. The men behind this latest assault were clever, too clever.
The soldiers carrying out the assault were good to, the
doors of the insertion ships had slid open before they even touched the deck
and Republic troops started to pour out of the vessels, six men from each,
sixty in all. Talon responded to the assault with the same speed the aggressors
"Turn the nearby point defence guns on the infantry." The man was calm and authoritative again. The waiting had unnerved him but now that the first shot was about to fly he was in his element once more. It was a proper fight at last! The closest two point defence guns span around with inhuman speed and robotic precision, pouring green death into the disembarking infantry. But the Republic men were ready. In the space of five seconds the assault team had fired off two rockets, knocking out both guns and securing the landing zone. True they had lost three men in those few moments but those were astoundingly light casualties.
Before the guns, and their associated cameras, were
destroyed Talon got a look at the men running about above him. They looked like
lightly armoured scout troopers. They seemed to be wearing very similar body
armour but their legs and arms were less protected. They even wore similar
helmets, though the face mask portion had been removed. Unlike scout troopers
though these men were bristling in kit, with bigger guns and more tools than
you would think you would ever need. Talon knew exactly what these men were and
it gave him no comfort. Raising Jan on the communicator Talon said very matter
"There are currently fifty seven enemy commandos on the hull, at the base of the command tower."
Jan's reply was similarly brief and devoid of inflection.
"Message received and understood. Out." Both men's calm concealed their worry. The general quality of Republic infantry was still poor. They had high moral but lacked proper training and discipline. More importantly they lacked good junior officers. Commandos however, were a different story. Just as the old Rebel fleet made up for its lack lustre capital ships with superb fighters and small craft so too did the Republic army make up for poor core troops with excellent commandos. Without functioning cameras in the area Talon wondered what the commandos were up to. A minutes waiting and a large boom answered his question.
"Hull breach at the base of the bridge tower"
called one of his junior crew. So... they were in. It wasn't hard to guess
where they were going, the bridge. The enemy likely believed the ship was still
controlled from there. If the enemy wanted to move with speed they would not
crawl up the maintenance ladders but would instead try to crawl up the turbo
"Activate the turbo lifts!" Ordered Talon. "Make them go up and down as fast as you can." His idea was to make the shafts too hazardous to travel but the enemy were ahead of him.
"Sir, they cut the power." That was hardly a surprise, merely a disappointment. "I have alerted the troopers on the bridge." There was but a single fire team on the bridge. At range they might have stood a chance but up close and against commandos? The question wasn't if they would die but rather how many Republic dogs would they take with them?
The commandos had launched grappling hooks up to the turbo lift shafts right to the bridge level, automatic winches rocketed them up at great speed and the first man to the top began cutting open the door. This first man received a great surprise. Whilst the lifts may not have been working the doors still had power. The moment the glow of thermal cutters was seen by the Imperial troops the doors flew open and two troopers poured blaster fire into the defenceless man. He wasn't even able to reach for his weapon. Instead he was blown back and bounced off of the far wall, eventually coming to rest and just limply hanging by his cord, several glowing, steaming holes in his chest hissing as they gently cooled. A third trooper whipped out his thermal detonator and, putting it on a short timer, chucked it down the shaft. There was the odd clang of it bouncing off of a few walls followed by an almighty blast intermingled with the sound of tearing metal and tortured screams. The troopers had no way of knowing how many it had killed or injured, but it had clearly had some effect. Unfortunately the Republic's reply was even louder. Six grenades came tearing back up out of the shaft, four thermal detonators and two stun grenades. All six went off at almost the exact same moment creating a mixture of heat, light and sound that made it seems as though the world itself were ending. For four troopers the world did end. Even their armour could do nothing against a blast of that magnitude and the computers and rubble they hid behind did little to help.
Now only two troopers were left. One of them was manning a
light blaster cannon whilst the other was on his communicator trying to update command.
"Bridge team down... only two of us." His words were almost being drowned out by the frantic fire of the blaster cannon. The gunner was still semi blind from the blast and so he was just firing wildly in the general direction of the enemy. "We won't hold out for..." His communication was suddenly cut off and only static filled the airwaves. Talon, back down in his command post gave an unusual order.
"Power down any shields we may have near the bridge. Turn one turbo laser on the bridge itself, another on the tower. Bring it down." He was unusually calm, almost casual, in giving the order to turn guns on his own ship. This was merely a result of his absolute certainty.
One of his men however, was not so relaxed and saw fit to
challenge Talon's orders.
"But sir!" The Lieutenant Commander however, cut him off having predicted the question.
"We have no men there, only the Republics best. Now fire." He was firm in his order, but there was a tiny hint of righteous fury in the word fire, a snap in his voice. He wanted those commandos dead and he wanted them dead now!
"Aye sir." Came the eventual reply. Talon did not yet have the unquestioning obedience of all men but his order, now understood, was carried out.
Two mighty turrets span and poured their best into their targets. Their shots seemed to ring louder now they were firing on their own ship and the Resolve juddered and rocked under the impact. Jan, ignorant of the most recent events, wondered what could possibly be going on above. Unfortunately for the Resolve the turrets were still operating on reduced power and the outer hull of the ship was built to try and absorb shots like this even without shields. As a result the tower did not collapse but some damage was done. The bridge itself, already half open to the elements due to the crash, was filled with a whirling torrent of explosions, fire and cacophonous laser shots. The air itself heated up to such a temperature that bare flesh would roast and melt even without sustaining a direct hit.
Meanwhile, in the turbolift shaft, debris feel like rain, striking commandos at random in some cruel lottery. However, very few shots penetrated into the shafts themselves. Talon had no idea how many men his little barrage had killed but he would wager it wasn't enough. The bridge for its part, was now a total wreck, engulfed in flame it sent a great pillar of black smoke into the sky visible for miles around. The thought of it played in Talon's mind but he would not allow it to distract him from the matters at hand. Ordering his guns to fall silent after just under a minute of fire he readied for the commandos next move.
The problem was they could strike at almost any level from
where they were and he just didn't have enough men to defend every door to the
turbo lifts. True, there were three or four places that they were most likely
to strike but still, it would be a drain on manpower. As it turned out they
struck at the most predictable point, engineering. But whilst the attack may
have been predictable its speed was not. The pounding they had just taken
didn't even seem to slow the commando's down, they were on their next target
within three minutes. A desperate call from one of the engineers made it clear which
way the battle was going.
"Sir! Commando's in engineering! At least three dozen, maybe more! We can't hold them! If they get to the core..." Talon didn't need to hear the end of that message. He knew full well what could happen if the reactor fell to the enemy.
Abandoning the old Commander's stance for a moment he
pointed dramatically at one of his subordinates with a gloved hand.
"Order Jan and some of his reinforcements to engineering. Brief them en route!" The order was carried out and Jan obeyed swiftly. The major also knew how bad it could be if the enemy seized engineering and so he tore towards the foe as if hell were at his heels. He had a mere two dozen troopers behind him. There were other storm troopers about the ship of course, but he did not want to pull any of them back from their posts. So, to make up the numbers, every time he passed other crew men he ordered them to follow him. This added another three dozen to his number but these men were not storm troopers. They were engineers, gunners, fire crew, cooks, comms officers and the like. Still he was in no position to be fussy. When they arrived at engineering they had no idea what the situation would be. There had been no word since the last message and the cameras had all gone down, either as a result of the crash or enemy action.
Hovering outside of the blast door Jan silently gestured some of his troopers forward. He thought about sending some of the less skilled men, he knew the first men through that door would die. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. After all the storm troopers aboard this ship were originally placed here to protect the crew and repel boarders. What sort of protector would he be if he just threw his wards to the ravenous nexu at the first sign of trouble? So, after moment's hesitation, he gestured his troops to go through the door. Storm trooper training shone through, no sooner had the door began to peek open than thermal detonators and concussion grenades came sailing through the gap. The cacophony was immense and gave the Rebel swine a taste of their own medicine! When the door slid fully open troopers burst through without waiting to see what was beyond. They were just running and shooting at anything that looked even vaguely threatening, each one of them making for the closest possible cover. The scene in engineering was one of utter devastation. Smoke was starting to fill the room as several consoles and machines were already on fire as a result of the fight that had taken place previously. The fire suppressant foam had not properly deployed and was spurting haphazardly from a single sprinkler in the ceiling. Bodies, chiefly Imperial, were scattered across the floor and the screams of the wounded and dying filled the air. One Republic commando lay in full view, writhing on the ground, clutching with both hands at a leg that just wasn't there anymore. Another was staggering around, hands up to his face, blood seeping through his fingers making a noise more like a dying bantha than a man. From the noise there were a few other similar injuries among the enemy. But battered though they may have been, beaten they were not.
Jan was right, a hail of blaster fire greeted the first man through the door, sending him limp to the floor before he got three paces in. The second man went down after five paces and the third after seven. Each one hit the ground with that odd clatter only the plasteel of storm trooper armour could make. The fourth man however, got to cover and began laying down some fire, as did the fifth. They had their foot in the door but the situation was still not in their favour. Towards the back of the room, through a blast proof screen, Jan thought he could make out some commandos fretting over an odd device. It looked like a big black box with antenna which had been placed atop one of the main engineering command consoles. He couldn't get a clear shot but thought it best to radio it in to Talon.
Talon however, was equally confused and turned to his
improvised command team for advice. They all looked puzzled for a moment, brows
furrowed deep in thought until one of them had a slow epiphany.
"I might be wrong." He said, uncertainly and with caution in his voice. "But from the description it seems like a repair tool I've seen the tech boys use."
"What sort of repair tool?" Asked Talon in altogether more rushed and urgent tones, eager for a response.
"Well." Responded the man slowly, clearly not having picked up on Talon's need for speed. "If a droid or machine isn't responding to commands properly they can try wiring on this box. Then an operator somewhere else can take control of the system from somewhere else. It's supposed to have all sorts of gizmos that get past malfunctioning circuits or software that stop the machine properly taking commands." If this box did indeed serve the same general purpose then it was clear what the intent of the commandos was.
"Jan, they are trying to pass control of ship's systems
to a remote location!" Declared Talon down the communicator, urgency and even
worry now evident in his tone. "I don't know what systems but we must assume
the worst. Break that box!"
"Aye sir!" Came Jan's reply. Again, this was not an order he was inclined to disobey. If that box did what Jan thought it did then it needed to go, fast. But how to get there? There was no high ground to seize, no flanks to go around. This was a straight face to face fight against some of the Republic's best. The odds were not in their favour but the dice had to be rolled.
Turning behind him, to some of the regular crewmen he
bellowed over the gunfire.
"Rip some panelling off the walls, pick up debris, anything that's solid. Make improvised shields. Do it!" Then pointing to the next six troopers he waved them on declaring. "Get in there and back them up you nerf herders!" The six men didn't need to be told twice. They burst out, all heading for cover, two throwing another two grenades. Unfortunately another two troopers went down. One of them was hit in the head, his helmet shattered seemingly in slow motion and the side of his skull was simply blown away. Oddly it wasn't the gore that was the worst but the sound. The squealing hiss of tearing plasteel. After all these years that sound still got to Jan. He tried to shrug it off but he never quite could. Still, he focused on the positives, four men got to good cover.
One of them got to a piece of rubble which had a Rebel Commando squatting on the other side. The Rebel poked his gun up over the lip of the cover to blast fire into the storm trooper but the trooper turned the tides on his enemy. Grabbing the muzzle of the blaster he yanked on it hard. His foe kept his grip on his gun so we was pulled up out of the cover. The commando swung with his free hand. Smashing into the side of the troopers head. But punching armour was never that effective. The trooper however twisted the commando's gun arm and then smashed down on his elbow with his own free hand. The snap was quite compared to the blasts and screams all around. But to the two men involved it was the loudest thing in the world. With his arm broken the enemy was in no position to stop the trooper as he tore away the commando's gun and turned it on its former owner, planting a single shot squarely between the eyes. Jan had to admit, that was a fine display and worth a congratulatory drink after this was all over.
After another two minutes of men taking pot shots at one
another several of the crewmen had finished their improvised shields. They were
made to be so tall they could cover a whole man, head to toe. Some of them were
perhaps a tad flimsy but Jan had to work with what he had. Turnign to the men
behind him Jan gave clear and firm commands.
"All right, huddle up tight behind those shields, keep low and push forward. I want you to move up to the troopers and stop. Form a wall. Shield bearers. Behind you will be a second man with a gun. I want you all to lay suppressing fire above the wall, just stick your guns up and pull the trigger. If the man in front of you dies pick up his shield at once and join the wall. Do not hesitate, do not stop moving. Now go!" As the first few men went out Jan bellowed. "Cover fire!" As one man each trooper already in the room upped his fire rate. No longer aiming to kill but just to keep the heads of the enemy down whilst the crew men were exposed for a few seconds. Their efforts were commendable but not entirely successful.
After all, these were well trained commandos, they were not easily intimidated or suppressed and their aim was true. One blaster bolt tore through a weak point in the shield, putting a neat glowing hole in the metal. The hole it put through the crewman's leg was anything but neat. With a sharp shriek the man went down, unable to support his own weight. Face down on the ground, writhing in pain and clutching at the hole in his leg the man made an easy target. A small flurry of shots put him out of his misery, his body now twisted, torn and still. The second man hesitated, shuffled back slightly and looked behind him as if to ask what to do. He had a look of fear and confusion on his face, one that said help. But all of a sudden it was replaced by a look of total surprise. Not pain, sadness or anger. Just, total surprise. That look stayed on his face all the way to the floor. He didn't even try to grab at his wound, he was already dead.
Jan knew men, he knew how easily moral could rise and fall, how quickly panic and uncertainty could spread among ill trained troops. He had no doubt that in a ship to ship battle these men would be some of the most stalwart people around whilst his troopers would flap about. But now, well he needed to take control. Pouring fire into the gap that had emerged in the now hesitant line Jan dashed forward, head down low as the hiss and crack of shots sounded about him. He got to the fallen shield in the nick time and hauling it up with a single hand just before a blaster bolt that would have hit him square in the chest reached him. Instead the shot hit the metal, causing it to shudder and shake violently, but it held. Still though, the advance had stalled. Waving some of his troopers forward and two crewmen he forced one crewman to take his place behind the shield and the other to take up a reserve position in line with the original plan.
"Now get moving you useless dogs!" Jan's tone left no room for doubt and hesitantly the shield wall started to creep forward once more, the other troopers Jan had called up were helping to steady the line, offering instructions and reassurance, pushing men on as they wavered and lending the odd expert shot when it was needed. The crack of blaster fire, the thundering boom of grenades, the smell of blood and the sound of screams would have been enough to break the wall mere moments ago. But now, with some hardened troopers behind the line pushing them on, the men's hearts grew firm and their resolve strengthened.
After a while they were within 15 meters of the box, which was unfortunately hidden behind an extremely durable shock glass command display. It would take a small cannon to punch through that stuff, so they had to get around the console to reach the box. So be it. There was only one thing left to do now. It would be brutal, bloody, and messy in extremis, but it was necessary. "Come on you wretches, just a few more meters." Slowly but surely they got to within ten meters of the box whereupon Jan simply called out "Grenades out!" At this point every man with a grenade of any shape or size threw the devices over the shield wall and into the last hold outs of the Republican Commandos. The resultant blast was a deafening cacophony of discordant booms and devastating blasts. Incendiary grenades, stun grenades, thermal detonators, fragmentation grenades, the works, all went into a jumble of destruction. The troopers were relatively unaffected, the helmets protected them from both the flashes and the bangs and the shields protected the crewmen from the worst of the bright lights, but the wall of noise was still disorientating. No matter, the troopers were fit and ready for what had to come next.
They did not need a command, they knew exactly what to do. As one man the surviving troopers burst through the shields and pored through the smoke and flames in a flurry of blaster fire. Their aim was to get close, gun their way through the first line of Republic commandos and charge headlong into the rest. Just as the rebel scum was starting to bring themselves round from the grenade blasts they would find white clad fury descending upon them, all fire and fists. The crewmen, in a surprising act of bravery, followed the troopers in, casting aside their shields and descending upon the foe with a fury to match, even surpass the troopers.
The ensuing melee seemed to last an eternity. Every moment dragged out into forever. The barrage of grenades had inflicted heavy losses on the Rebels. This, combined with their initial daze, at last gave the Imperials the edge they so desperately needed. True, these commandos had superior close combat training when compared to even the troopers, but this wasn't the fist fight of the drill yard or the brawl of some dive bar. This was the desperate, bloody struggle for simple survival up close and personal and no amount of training quite prepares a man for it. Most of the commandos practice seemed to slip away as they descended into the same, desperate, primal fighting as the Imperials. Those who did not were men like Jan, people who had several real battles under their belts but unfortunately for them Jan could spot men like himself a mile off and they were his targets.
Jan had been punched to the ground by just such a man, but Jan had managed to kick the legs out from under his attacker and the two men both laid sprawled on the cold metal floor, rolling atop of one another in a desperate struggle for the advantage. It was imperial equipment that was to decide the day. The full face helmet of the storm trooper sometimes had its disadvantages. But now Jan used it to gain the upper hand. Head but after head but into the less armoured commando were barely felt by Jan. But it only took one or two blows to daze the commando, another three or four to knock him unconscious. A simple blaster shot from Jan fished it off after the man was no longer in any position to resist.
Looking about him Jan surveyed the mad brawl, though the Imperials had the numbers the Rebels had the skill and so no winner was as yet emerging. Spying one commando raise a knife into the air, about to stab an engineer who lay helpless on the ground, Jan quickly fired, as if by reflex. Wordlessly the commando fell to the side, limply, whilst the engineer surged up and re-joined the fray. Turning swiftly Jan sent a shot square into the centre of a chest of a man who was surging at him before suddenly being slammed, face first into the ground by some unseen foe who had landed bodily upon him from behind. Sprawling inelegantly across the cold steel floor Jan could feel the weight of a man straddling his back. But more concerning, he could feel the hands on the side of his head, trying to get purchase and to twist sharply, ending it all. The smooth, sloping surfaces of a storm trooper helmet made the task hard, but by no means impossible. Twisting and writhing Jan struggled fiercely to shake his attacker off but he couldn't quite make it happen. Every time he came close the man's weight would shift and come bearing down on Jan once again. Even Jan, the seasoned veteran, could feel his heart racing, the adrenaline and even fear surging through his body. This could be it, if something didn't happen in the space of about five seconds he would be dead. As the realisation hit him his tossing, turning and bucking seemed to grow in strength and intensity but it still was not enough.
Then, all of a sudden, the weight on top of him went limp, he could feel the man's body fall lazily upon him. But before Jan could even rise to his feet a bloody hand grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him up. Looking into the smeared and sweaty face of his saviour Jan saw the engineer that he had rescued mere seconds ago. There was no time for words of thanks, there was bloody business still to be done. An affirming pat on the shoulder and Jan was back at it. But now the tide was turning in favour of the Imperials. Their numbers were counting and soon the commandos were being forced to deal with two or three attackers at a time and that was beyond even their training. Whilst one man might be laid low by the rebel filth, a second would pin the commando down and a third would finish him off. Jan meanwhile, was making a beeline for that control box. Who knows what havoc the foe could wreak if they took control of the ships systems even briefly?
One resolute commando was still standing by the box, back to the wall, gunning down all comers and remaining surprisingly calm given the truly dire situation he was in. Anyone could have seen that this man was not leaving this room alive. But there he stood, the last of his unit, still fighting. Had Jan seen that kind of display from one of his own troopers then he would have respected it, even admired it. But from a rebel he saw it only as the frenzied mad biting of a rabid and doomed dog. Perhaps one day he would realise the fundamental inequality of such a view, but not today. Instead he rammed forward, shoulder charging the man, staggering him but in a testament to the rebel's resoluteness, not knocking him prone. But a stagger was all Jan needed. Keeping up the momentum Jan rose up, punching and kicking with armoured fists and boots. Caught unware, the commando was desperately trying to block or lessen the impacts, but all to no avail. Eventually the sheer number of blows rendered him sluggish and dazed. Giving Jan all the opportunity he needed to pick up a length of twisted pipe, blown lose in one of the many explosions that had happened in this room, and finish off the man with a single stout blow to the head.
Looking about Jan could see that the battle had been won,
and one of the engineers was already working on removing the control box.
Wasting no time Jan raised his communicator and reported their success in to
"Well done MajorCaptian." Came Talon's curt but genuinely appreciative reply. "What is the battle effectiveness of the reserve?"
"We have taken a pounding. Slightly over half of the troopers in the reserve are dead or wounded. These commandos really knew their business." Jan even sounded a little tired as he said it, catching his breath and beginning to pant slightly as the adrenaline wore off.
"Tend to your wounded Major, but I want what men can still fight to reform and return to your staging position. A reduced reserve is better than no reserve at all." Jan could not argue with that, but looking about him, at the men who were twisting and crawling, clutching and wounds and crying out for help, or worse at those that did not move at all, he couldn't help but feel a little hesitant. Jan was about to reply when Talon spoke up again. "You and your men have my compliments Major, make sure to tell them that. But I need you back in position."
Jan did not quite know how to deal with that, other than to wait for a few moments before saying. "Yes sir!" With a surprising snap, even zeal in his voice. Then turning around to his troopers he called out. "Listen here men. Our Lieutenant Commander send his compliments, but the job is not done yet. If you can still walk staunch the bleeding of those who can't and then come with me! The battle's not over yet." It was not long until he and those of his men who were still able, were jogging down the cluttered corridors of the Resolve once more. Soon battle would begin again.
Little did they know just how soon. But in that brief interlude Talon found himself wrestling with an ethical problem. Casting his gaze to the cold steel deck beneath him he mulled on his prisoners. He could threaten their lives to try and stave off another attack, but such a threat would ring empty and meaningless. If Talon was not going to execute a hostage now then he never would. So the question was, should he execute one? By executing only one prisoner he might be able to stave off an attack for several hours, giving him and his men more time to prepare and saving Imperial lives. But, by executing such a man he would be breaking his word as an officer, ignoring the rules of war, betraying the very values the Empire stood for, or he believed they stood for. But how could he justify sparing on Rebel life at the cost of who knows how many of his own crew?
This mental back and forth lasted for some minutes, until eventually his hand began to drift towards his blaster. It was only when his gloved fingers started to wrap around the grip of his weapon that he realised how insane he was being. His fingers seemed to recoil from the weapon reflexively, as if it were scorching hot. His face seemed to grow even paler than it usually was and he felt horrified, even disgusted, at his own thoughts for a few moments. How had he come that close to committing what would have been a war crime? He would have to guard himself against this sort of behaviour in the future. But now he suddenly found himself understanding how those kinds of things could happen so easily on the battlefield, just how tempting it was to start executing prisoners for the sake of your own men, just how right it could sound in your own head. A little bit of him had just become a little bit more sympathetic, a little bit more understanding to all those accused of such brutality.
Clearing his throat with a cough, as if to return his focus to the issues at hand, he resumed his stance with his hands clasped firmly behind his back, trying to put his recent thoughts out of his mind. The next attack came swiftly, with the failure of the commando raid the New Republic troops were wasting no time. Yet more of those giant ten wheeled attack tanks crested the hill and came tearing towards the same old breach. It appeared the commandos were not the only reinforcements the Republic troops had received. But now, with the nearby turbo laser destroyed, there was nothing to stop them crossing the open ground which was so pivotal to the Resolve's defence. Worse still X wings and now Y wings swooped down from on high. A flurry of laser fire and torpedoes streamed down from the heavens and whilst the turbo lasers did their best to clear the skies they were of little effect. It seemed as though that for ever lance of Imperial green that tore into the heavens, ten bolts of Rebel red came streaming right back. The enemy were coming in greater numbers now and with more confidence. Similarly, the point defence guns span furiously on their axels, blasting torpedo after torpedo from the air. But too many had been lost and too many craft were now attacking. The Resolve shock violently again and again as hit after hit struck home. Talon could hear the echo of screeching metal coming down the corridors as bulkheads gave way and sections collapsed, trapping or killing who knew how many crew.
Meanwhile, the New Republic troops reached the breach swiftly, the attack tanks driving back any defenders with shot after shot from their enormous cannons. No man, armoured or not, could survive in that fire storm for long and so the Imperial troops were once more forced to withdraw, with corridor to corridor fighting now an inevitability. Boyed by their success the Rebel infantry charged forth from their great transports and poured headlong into the Imperial positions. What awaited them was a hail of blaster fire from foes crouched behind improvised barricades. Rebel casualties were staggering, when one man went down, another stepped over his body only to be sent sprawling to the ground himself. The Rebels were open and vulnerable, in a confined space, with no room to manoeuvre. Whilst the Imperials were there, waiting. A cacophony of screams, coughs and blaster fire began to fill the air. But the Rebel numbers threatened to count and their spirit never seemed to waver in the face of such high casualties in a remarkable display of bravery. Every now and again they would get off a lucky blaster shot, or a grenade would come hurtling out of the smoke and into the waiting Imperials and then the crew of the Resolve would be forced to roll one intersection back, leaving behind too many Imperial bodies for their liking.
With every intersection that was lost the Rebels opened up new avenues of attack. Suddenly the men of the Resolve found themselves being attacked from multiple directions, in ever increasing numbers. Every now and again some Imperials would not be updated as to the collapse of an adjacent position, meaning the Rebels could get around behind the stalwart defenders and finish them off with an almost insulting ease. Still, the men of the Resolve fought on, like daemons and the Rebels were still taking obscene casualties, seemingly oblivious as to their losses. As the men of the Resolve retreated they primed grenades in vents, set plasma pipes to rupture or set down other traps. Every time the Rebels took a position it would seem to promptly explode in a hail of spinning metal and white hot fire. But still the Rebels just kept on taking ground. The Imperials could have killed thirty or forty men for every one of their own lost and it still would not have made a difference.
By now Jan and his reserve were back in the fray. Desperately trying to hold on to every inch of the corridors, pouring fire wildly down the narrow shafts into the clouds of smoke and steam. Almost every shot hit home, aiming was no longer important, the foe was packed so tightly that you were always bound to hit something. The thumps of unseen bodies hitting the floor was like the pitter patter at the start of a rain storm. But every time the Rebel dogs seemed to hesitate and stall a great cheer would erupt from somewhere behind them and on they would surge once more, charging out of the smoke. Jan could see the way this was going, and it was not going well. But he would neither surrender to fate nor to Rebel scum. And so on he fought, sliding slowly back, step by step, inch by inch, but always firing, always firing.
Meanwhile, back in Talon's improvised control room the Lieutenant Commander was listening to the reports of intersection after intersection falling. A blue print of the ship had been pinned up to the wall and little red flags were being put into every point the Rebels held, and the map was far too Red for his liking. It had been roughly an hour now since the Rebels began to swarm into his ship like rats, slowly crawling forward, corridor by corridor, minute by minute. By now he could hear the gun fire less than a dozen corridors away from the room in which he now stood. He had to do something, he could not just stand here and let control of the ship be wrested from him. His brow creased, his hands tightened into painful little balls behind him, desperate frustration started to build. Suddenly, inspiration hit him, an idea! It was a desperate idea but it was a desperate situation and it was a damn site better than just trying to hold ground. Deciding to exploit the eagerness of the Republic troops to keep pressing ahead at every turn he spotted an opportunity to lull them into a trap.
Stepping with an odd enthusiasm to the blueprint he slammed
an almost triumphant finger into it.
"Order the troops from intersection 17 C to fall back seven intersections!"
"Seven intersections!" Came an incredulous cry from one of his staff. "That's only two intersections from here!" Spinning on his heel Talon had fire in his eyes, but it was not the fire of fury directed at his crewman. Instead it was the odd burning of a man with a mad, brilliant plan, conviction and the drive to see it through. The ever calm appearance of the Commander that Talon had so far been emulating appeared to have dropped away, if only for a moment.
Taking a step towards his officer Talon explained in tones
to match his eyes.
"Yes it is! Those Rebels will not be able to resist it. They will think they have us on the run and surge into the gap, making a beeline right for us. But when they run into a well prepared position, and their advance stalls." He span back around to the map, gesturing at the adjacent corridors. "They will have advanced too far, their flanks will be unsupported. The Major can lead a dozen men behind the foe and then…" Snapping his fingers Talon wordlessly described the Rebel's fate. After a few moments of reflection on the plan Talon said more quietly, almost to himself. "It doesn't matter how many people they throw into that trap. They will not be able to punch their way back out." Before finishing by declaring. "Relay the order!" In the firm, authoritative tones of a man who knew he was right.
The men given the fall back order were only too happy to
comply, they were being faced by a seemingly never ending, never tiring horde
to whom losses meant nothing. Laying down what fire they could the word
"Retreat!" was bellowed out and suddenly they began to run hell for leather back down the corridor, ducking and weaving as best they could, blaster shots all around. Running suddenly, less because they were ordered to and now running for their lives. Meanwhile, another deafening cheer went up from the Rebels, a cheer that was made up of far too many voices for comfort.
"Come on boys! They're breaking!" Came one voice from the Rebel throng and suddenly, as a man, they charged, woops and yells of triumph echoing all the way down the corridor as they went, boots thundering, their spirits high.
Meanwhile, Jan, and a dozen of his best, were huddled waiting for the moment to go. It was a bold plan, perhaps even a slightly mad one but Jan had to admit, only mad plans could save them now. But he was still apprehensive, a little knot in his gut had built up and he felt both cold and hot simultaneously. Even the hardest of veterans never quite drove out fear from their hearts. They simply learn to supress it better, and how to manage it when suppression fails. Concentrating on his breathing, and keeping his hand steady he stayed oddly still and utterly quiet until he heard all hell break lose.
The sound of rapid blaster fire, grenades, light blaster
cannons and a cacophony of other weapons and explosions suddenly erupted from
down the corridor. The men at section 17 C had turned around after their
retreat and joined the men already defending the new and well prepared
intersection. Their combined fire was supposed to stop the foe dead in their
tracks and the sound of cries and screams certainly hinted at their effectiveness.
But another cry of
"Hurrah!" From far, far too many voices indicated that the Rebels had not quite come to a halt.
"Go, go go!" Barked out Jan as he and his men dashed forward, keeping their heads low, and erupting from an intersection behind the careless Rebel advance.
From where they were they could see the outlines of dozens upon dozens of Rebel dogs, all crammed tight into the corridor like sardines in a can. "Hit the deck" barked out Jan and as a man, he and his troops dove to the ground and began firing wildly into the rear of the Rebels. To say it was like shooting fish in a barrel was an insult to fish. It was like shooting fish in a barrel that was crammed full of only fish. If you sat and thought about it for more than just a few moments it was a harrowing affair. Men and women were dying in droves, several lives were being snuffed out each second. Every one of them a complete person, with friends, family, people who would miss them, people who needed them. But not only had Jan long since learned to stop thinking about Rebels that way. But any man in this desperate struggle for survival would instinctively reduce the foe to something less than human. The enemy were shapes, numbers, guns, nothing more.
Attacked from both the front and the rear the Rebels had
little idea what to do. Some tried to run forwards, some tried to run back,
others tried to stand and shoot. But all three options were of little effect.
No matter what they did the blaster fire simply did not stop coming. Shot after
shot kept pouring into the corridor, the stream of fire seemed constant until
Jan noticed something strange, something had changed in the corridor.
"Cease fire!" He bellowed out and after a few moments everything fell still.
Soon the smoke began to clear and what had changed was
obvious. The corridor was carpeted with enemy dead, occasionally something
would shift on the floor as a wounded man tried to somehow crawl to safety.
Groans and gasps drifted up, punctuated by the coughs and splutters of the
dying. But Jan had no time to reflect on the carnage before him, even though he
could see several of the crewmen at the other end of the corridor had pale
faces and appalled expressions, uncomprehending of the devastation they had
"Follow me!" He declared, and started running back up the corridor to the original intersection, a few of the less phased crewmen following him along with his level headed troopers. Those few Rebels that had gathered there did not expect to see a dozen storm troopers, with various supporting engineers and crew, pouring back up the corridor in a hail of blaster fire. So stunned were they at the idea of an Imperial counterattack in the face of what seemed like certain defeat, that the moral of the Rebels just collapsed and they ran way, rather than facing the obviously insane foe.
Indeed, when it became clear that the main thrust of their attack had failed the great cries of victory and jubilation from the Rebels throughout the ship appeared to fade into silence, and eventually into concerned mutterings. Taking advantage of this nervousness and hesitation Imperial troops began counter attacking throughout the ship. It was not enough to force the Rebels out of the smashed hull of the Resolve entirely, but it was enough to push them all back a few intersections until the two sides settled down into a tense stalemate, each waiting for the other to make some form of mistake. A few corridors worth of no man's land was all that separated the two opposing forces. Occasionally a blaster shot would ring out as a nervous man took a pot shot at a strange movement or a lurking shadow. But neither force was making a move.
But the battle seemed far from over. Talon's daring move had
bought them time, but nothing more. Who knew how many more enemy troops lay out
there? Who knew how they would attempt to attack again whilst his own forces
were starting to look dangerously thin. It was whilst Talon was bent double
over a map, pondering this very problem, that a strange smile spread across his
face. A little chuckle even managed to escape his lips. The idea had just
occurred to him that his first, and quite possibly last, command of a spaceship
was of a vessel that never even got off of the ground! Glancing around he saw
one of his crewman looking at him strangely, and Talon suddenly realised just
how odd this must have looked to an outside viewer. Swiftly regaining his composure
Talon stood up and placed both hands behind his back once more. A stern cough
and the words.
"Carry on crewman." Signalled that this little event was over, and never to be spoken of again. But when he thought no one was looking, a little smile spread across his face once more. A little bit of humour in the face of death never hurt.
Returning to his musings two hours must have readily gone by. Two tense hours, punctuated by status updates and copious amounts of caffa. Talon's nerves and brain may not have needed sharpening, but his many sleepless hours were starting to count. Part of him wanted to take a brief nap in the corner of the room, but he could not let himself rest just yet. Not when Rebels were still inside his ship, even if they had gone quiet for now.
It was whilst he was musing on a plan to launch a counter
attack in what remained of the nose of the ship, that events pre-empted his
"Sir! Enemy fighter cover is peeling off." Came the voice of one of his crewman, who was obviously unsure as to whether he should be happy or concerned. Similarly confused Talon walked over to the monitor, to confirm it with his own eyes. It was certainly true. X wing and Y wing alike was climbing for the sky. Then another, even more baffling report came in.
"Sir, the Rebels. They are pulling back sir!" This time the voice was a tad more enthusiastic, heading towards jubilant.
"Where?" Probed Talon, with the slow air of a man who sensed a trap he did not yet understand.
"Everywhere sir! Right along the line!"
Still confused Talon pulled his communicator up to his mouth
and hailed Jan.
"Major, I am receiving reports of a general retreat. Can you confirm?" After a few moments Jan's voice floated back, as gruff as ever but as obviously unsure as Talon's.
"Confirmed sir. They are all retreating. Shall we pursue?" The query about pursuit really was said as more of a query than a suggestion. The situation was so odd Jan didn't quite know how to react and nor did Talon. But whilst Jan seemed to lean towards taking quick advantage of the situation Talon still feared an ambush.
"No, hold your positions Major. I want more information before I order an advance." Flicking off his communicator the Lieutenant Commander's face twisted into an obvious look of total bafflement and confusion. He would not have to wait long through for clarification.
A few minutes later several booms could be heard of ships entering the atmosphere, then several more, then more still. His heart began to sink in his chest. Despite their prisoners it seemed as though the Rebels were committing a huge number of ships to a great bombing run on the broken and shattered Resolve. Even the remains of her once might hull were stretched to breaking, and would likely do little now to stop a sustained shelling. He had to admit though. He was surprised that Commander Aries would sanction such a strike, after he seemed so determined to recapture his lost men. Perhaps his most recent failed offensive had persuaded him that it was not worth the cost. Perhaps he had fallen to a temptation not so dissimilar to the one that had so recently nagged at Talon.
Talon could not have been more wrong. Soon the sweetest sound in all of the galaxy graced his ears, reverberating down the corridors of the twisted ship. It was an echoing, artificial, metallic wail that seemed to go on forever, screaming into the sky. It was like the death cry of a robotic banshee mixed with the long forgotten war shouts of a long dead warrior race. It was the shriek, of a TIE fighter. But not just one TIE fighter, dozens of them. Soon the distinctive sound of their laser cannons could be herd thundering outside and consulting his external monitors Talon could see TIE bombers strafing the New Republic position behind the crest of the hill. All around him his hastily assembled command crew exploded into jubilation. Some men were jumping up and down on the spot, others pumping their fists into the air, some embracing one another. But they were all cheering, cheering in victory, cheering in relief, cheering at the idea they might live to see tomorrow, just cheering!
Talon meanwhile took a moment to remove his hat and lean forward heavily on to the desk, sighing in relief and exhaustion. He wiped the sweat from his brow before looking up with a smile at his crew, half chuckling to himself out of nervous joy. Replacing his cap the man proceeded to shake the hands of his jubilant staff. Hardy shakes, pats on the back and words such as "Well done." Were exchanged before the Lieutenant Commander strode out into the halls in search of Jan, who was even now retaking the last parts of the ship. Seemingly the Major of the storm troopers had not thought it necessary to seek Talon's approval for a counter attack once he knew the TIEs were overhead. Fortunately the Rebels had entirely cleared out in what must have been an attempt to evacuate before they were cut off. A failed attempt judging by the smoke rising from behind the ridge.
After treading over far too many corpses, both Rebel and
Imperial, for comfort Talon finally found his troublesome trooper. Jan looked
about as bad as Talon. Jan's armour was scuffed, laced in mild burn marks,
smattered in blood, a few cracks had appeared in the surface of the white
plasteel from where it had been hit just a little too hard. Talon meanwhile,
looked somewhat dirty and worn and more importantly, looked as though he had
not slept in a month. But still, the Lieutenant Commander managed to maintain
his ridged and upright posture, even keeping up his slightly curt tones which
just screamed officer class.
"Well done Major." Declared Talon with a slight nod of the head. Before adding in a slightly less formal tone. "Bloody well done as a matter of fact." Jan turned to look down at his commanding officer before looking forward once more, out of the open side of the ship.
"We're not all dead. That's something I suppose." Jan's words sounded almost dismissive, certainly a tad belittling. A man would have had to look very hard for even a bit of grudging respect.
Had Talon not been overwhelmed with relief and satisfaction
at their oncoming rescue he might have snapped at Jan for that. Truth be told
Talon thought he had done a good job, and even if he had not it was most certainly
not the place of a junior officer to be so overtly rude or dismissive. But for
the next few hours those kinds of little slights simply were not reaching Talon's
ears. Jan however continued.
"Next time you send my men into the freezing cold, give them something a little more than warm wishes." You could hear a hint of venom still in Jan's tone. He was still annoyed at the idea Talon had taken such a huge risk in sending unprepared men out into arctic temperatures, even though it had paid off. But whilst he was still obviously agitated he seemed to be a little less so than before.
Talon meanwhile played the comment off by retorting.
"I'll buy them all fur coats when we get home." His tone was not hostile, but it was a little snide, only the little smile at the corner of his mouth showed there was no real hostility in what he was saying. Jan could not help but snort a little at that idea, half out of actual amusement and half out of derision. Talon chose to focus on the good half.
"We are alive Major." Stated Talon, evenly and in an understated fashion that only seemed to grant more weight to his words. Jan's reply was similarly understated.
"Yes sir, yes we are."